A Reformed and Confessional View of Missions
Part 2

[Editor’s Note: For Part 1 of this article, click here.]

A Long Legacy

I am thankful for the long tradition of mission in Reformed churches. We could journey back to Calvin’s Geneva, which was a birthplace for missionary activity. Calvin himself set the tone for future Reformed churches, no matter their infancy, to embrace foreign mission endeavors. Commenting upon Micah 4:3, Calvin stated, “The Kingdom of Christ was only begun in the world, when God commanded the gospel to be everywhere proclaimed, and…at this day its course is not as yet completed.”[1] He blamed ministers of the gospel for the truth not going as far as it should: “Nothing retards so much the progress of Christ’s kingdom as the paucity of ministers.”[2] However, he made it clear in his commentary upon Hebrews 10:25 that all have the calling to reach the lost with the truth of Christ, when he says that Paul,

…intimates that all the godly ought by all means possible to exert themselves in the work of gathering together the Church on every side; for we are called by the Lord on this condition, that everyone should afterwards strive to lead others to the truth, to restore the wandering to the right way, to extend a helping hand to the fallen, to win over those that are without.[3]

In fact, Calvin taught that establishing Christ’s kingly reign on earth “ought not only to occupy the chief place among our cares, but even absorb all our thoughts.”[4]

We could look at the emphasis Calvin and the church in Geneva placed upon publishing to send out the Word or its mission to Brazil. We could consider the Acadmie de Geneva, which trained nearly 1,500 students for ministry and public administration influencing all of Europe. In part, Calvin’s education of young people, especially young men for the ministry, was with an eye to encourage them to return to their homelands with the gospel. As Stanford Reid states, “In this way he sought to make Geneva a veritable missionary centre to spread the Reformation and its teachings throughout Europe and beyond.”[5] Scott Manetsch echoes this truth when he writes, “Students were often in residence for only several months or a year, acquiring basic instruction in reformed theology and scriptural exegesis, before returning to their home countries to undertake gospel labors.”[6]

The number of prominent figures who later impacted their home countries in significant ways after studying in Geneva reads like a “who’s who” of the 16th century. John Knox, the principle Reformer of Scotland, trained and grew in Geneva. The foundations of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands owe much to Calvin and the Genevan Church as Guide de Bres, author of the Belgic Confession, Peter Danthenus, Peter Marnix van St. Aldegone, Pierre Brully, and others studied in the city.[7] Spaniards, Italians, Hungarians, and others learned in Geneva and returned to their home countries to preach, teach, and often suffer or even die for the Protestant faith.

But most significantly, the church in Geneva committed itself to sending missionaries into neighboring France. Between 1555 and 1563, the records in Geneva recorded 88 pastor missionaries sent into Roman Catholic France. Yet, most scholars believe this is only a partial list. Many of the names went unrecorded. In fact, some estimate as many as 165 missionary pastors were sent from Geneva to France in a single year. Not all the names were recorded. Why? Because pastors sent into France as missionaries of the Protestant faith faced execution. The anonymity aimed at safeguarding the lives of these missionaries.

In 1555, at the beginning of missionaries being sent to France, it is believed that only one established and organized Reformed church existed in the country. Seven years later, scholars estimate that around 2,150 congregations with three million members existed in France. What drove these missionary pastors to willingly sacrifice their lives? They were gripped by the preaching of the Word in Geneva. They heard and knew the will of God. God is patient, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Pet. 3:9). So, they went “for the Glory of God and the salvation of their fellow-man.”

I’m thankful for the way the PCA began. We committed ourselves to be “True to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.” Our denomination has sent missionaries around the world and engaged itself in establishing local indigenous churches to the glory of our Savior. May we continue to hear the call of the lost, the call from the ends of the earth, the call for the Word to be preached, and the call for churches to be established. The need is great and our Lord is greater still. Let’s pray and endeavor to commit ourselves and our churches to this missionary call and continue to build upon the legacy of Reformed mission for the glory of God and the salvation of our fellow-man.


[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets: Joel, Amos, Obadiah, vol. II, repr., trans. John Owen, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 2003: vol. 14, 265.

[2] Jean Calvin, Letters of John Calvin repr., trans. Jules Bonnet, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication), 1858: vol. 4, 263.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, repr., trans. John Owen, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 2003: vol. 22, 241.

[4] Calvin, Letters of John Calvin, 2:134–35.

[5] Reid, W. Stanford, “Calvin’s Geneva: A Missionary Centre”, The Reformed Theological Review 42, no. 3 Sep–Dec. (1983): 67.

[6] Scott M Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care And The Emerging Reformed Church, 1536–1609 (Oxford Studies In Historical Theology) repr., Oxford University Press, 2013. 49.

[7] Reid, 72.